Naturarte – passion and classical dressage

We arrived at Naturarte late in the afternoon, my husband, our 2 daughters (11 & 8) and I. We had a rental car and drove from Lisbon via Sundance Ranch where we had just spent 2 nights. We found Naturarte 1 km from the small village of Sao Luis where we received a warm welcome with coffee and homemade orange juice in a homely setting.

Our girls were jumping with joy when they saw the beautiful pool area, and they couldn’t wait to dive in. This was the beginning of May and it was colder than usual, but who cares? They had to swim even if their lips turned blue. If it is a holiday, it should be like a holiday!

Naturarte swimming pool

Naturarte has a beautiful pool area. No wonder why the kids were eager to jump in!

Meeting Pamela
While the kids were swimming and enjoying themselves, Pamela came to say hello. She is responsible for the horses and the riding at Naturarte, and she came from the stables where they just had a presentation of their horses to the guests. This is something they do once a week, but unfortunately, we missed it as we arrived late. She wanted to show us the horses the following day.
We had pre-booked one lesson and one trail ride each for me and our oldest daughter, Eline, during this stay. We agreed to meet Pamela at the stables at 10 a.m. for our riding lesson, and we were really looking forward to it!

Dinner in Vilanova de Milfontes
When we finally managed to get the kids out of the pool we took a trip towards the coast and the village of Vilanova de Milfontes to have dinner, about 20 minutes’ drive. The staff at Naturarte had provided us with a map of the area and a few restaurants they recommended. Our choice fell to A Choupana down by the seashore with fantastic views over the dramatic landscape of the area. The restaurant had a very rustic and informal atmosphere, and their speciality was naturally grilled seafood. Recommended!

Dramatic landscape in Vilanova de Milfontes

The horses at Naturarte
After a good nights’ sleep and nice breakfast served by the pool area, we stroll down to the stables, around 5 minutes’ walk from the hotel. There is a riding lesson going on when we arrive – on a lunge line without stirrups working on seat and balance. We look around and talk to the horses in the meantime. They are outside, together in a small herd in a large area, and they seem to be happy and social.

Pamela comes to show us around and introduces us to her horses. She has 10 horses, most of them Lusitanos, but also Andalucian, mixed breeds and two ponies. We especially notice one of the ponies called Aladdin. He is a charming and social little fellow with white/brown spots and blue eyes. He wants to be a part of everything that is going on! The herd is a good mix of all ages – from youngsters who have just started their training, to seniors who are good mentors.

She then takes us to meet her very own horse; the Lusitano stallion Xampanhe. He is like taken out of the Disney movie, Spirit, and is the horse of her dreams – we quickly understand why as we see him come running towards her in the blossoming field. She found Xampanhe at a horse fair when he was 3 years old, and it was love at first sight. She has trained him herself up to exercises as piaffe, passage, travèrs and flying changes, and she wants to show us in the arena.

The Lusitano stallion, Xampanhe. Like taken out of Spirit, the Disney movie.

While grooming and saddling up, Pamela tells us about her philosophy about horses and training. She and her husband are both classical dressage riders, and they use each other for feedback and corrections to develop as riders. They also have two young sons who also ride, so this is a family with a genuine passion for what they do. She makes it clear that they are not focused on competitions and results, but rather on educating horses and riders after traditional classical principles. “For me, it is all about the welfare of the horses, and on that I don’t move an inch” she says. My impression of Pamela is that she is mild and flexible, but here she comes through very strongly. It is important to her that the horses are not overworked, meaning that they always have to balance the number of guests, not only to optimize the lessons for the riders but also to respect the horses. Usually, they limit the number of riders at the hotel to a maximum of 4 at a time. (The hotel has a capacity of around 50 guests, but many of them are non-riders)

Classical dressage and Spanish Walk
She gets up in the saddle and rides into the arena. After warming up, she goes through a variety of exercises all the way up to piaffe. I am very fascinated by how light they move together through the exercises and the subtle use of her aids. You can barely see her move! I want to learn to ride like that.
She wants me to get up on Xampanhe and give it a try. “You have to ride with your core muscles” she says. “If you want to halt you just tighten your lower abs, and if you want to back up you tighten them a little bit more.” So, this is her secret for all the exercises; core muscles and positioning of the body. The legs and reins are not used that much. I can feel that my core is not strong enough for this and that I have a lot to work on. This is difficult!
I try to ride shoulder-in and travèrs only by adjusting the position of the body. The horse gets a little confused by my lack of skills, but I get a couple of rounds where I get it right and it feels amazing!

At the end, Eline gets a chance to ride. She tries for the Spanish Walk, with good help from Pamela, and it seems like she is enjoying it as she sits there smiling.

Pamela demonstrates dressage movements on her horse, Xampanhe.

Working Equitation
Another discipline they teach at Naturarte is Working Equitation, which is relatively new but based on the traditional way the horse was used for labour in the past. In addition to dressage, Working Equitation contains precision riding through various obstacles – some of them at a high speed. For this riding, it is very important to master the light communication in addition to agility and trust between horse and rider. They have just recently built a new arena for this purpose, and we are going to try it out.

I will ride Bolota, a white Lusitano mare which Pamela bought from Sundance Ranch. Eline is riding Cigano, a Lusitano/Thoroughbred cross which is a rescue horse who got a new chance at Naturarte. He was lame and afraid of people when they got him, but now he is one of their heartbreakers and very easy to ride and safe for children.

We ride through all the obstacles in the arena, and Pamela explains the techniques for each of them. This requires a lot of coordination, and with such big focus on light aids in addition to riding with one hand, this is quite a challenge and a lot of fun!

Pamela shows us how to ride through the course.

Excursion to Vilanova de Milfontes
In the afternoon we take a new trip to Vilanova de Milfontes to look around. I am sure there are plenty of other nice places in the area too, but after just taking a short trip the day before we wanted to spend more time here. This is a very nice little village that is definitely worth a visit. Traditional white houses, narrow streets, restaurants, small shops and a stunningly beautiful beach surrounded by dramatic cliffs. Had it not been that the water was so cold, it would be absolutely perfect. In summer, this city is a very popular place among Portuguese tourists, and it is said that it has not yet been discovered by foreign tourists because of its secluded location. We spend some time here before eating dinner at one of the restaurants down by the beach.

Sisters – Vilanova de Milfontes

Trail ride
Day 2 at Naturarte is our last day and we are going on a trail ride. I’m given a brown Lusitano mare called Ancora. She is a steady, soft and patient lady who, according to Pamela, is a very good teacher – especially in lateral movements. Her soft gaits and gentleness also make her a good horse for riding outside. Eline will ride Imitado. He is a Spanish horse well up in the twenties who is spending his retirement here. He is used for light work and seems to be happy with it. A very calm and safe horse to use for a trail ride.
We ride for about 1 hour through beautiful scenery in the countryside, mostly in walk, but we also get some stretches of trot and canter. All the horses are calm and steady as we pass tractors, farms and barking dogs. At the end of the ride, Pamela wants to show us the small village of Sao Luis which is only 1 km from the stables, so we take a detour and ride through narrow streets, past friendly villagers, small shops and restaurants. A very nice village and it was a fun experience to see it from horseback!

View from the trail ride, through Ancora¨s ears.

Overall impression
It was time to say goodbye for now. Despite the short amount of time we had, I left with a good feeling of having found a really nice place for riders who want to learn classical dressage based on patience and sensitivity for the horses. The horses are allowed to be horses as they live outside in a herd with a lot of room for movement. After seeing Pamela ride I must say that she is my role model when it comes to dressage – not least because of the soft and gentle communication she has with her horses. I’d like to come back any time!